Category Archives: Press Release

LightHouse Announces Three Inaugural Holman Prizewinners

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as winners of The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. Today, we are pleased to share their names with the world.

The three winners, Ahmet Ustunel, Penny Melville-Brown, and Ojok Simon, were announced Thursday, June 29, 2017 after a rigorous judging process that narrowed down the applicants to eleven highly competitive finalists. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners around the world or allows them to build and foster social impact in their immediate community.

Created to honor “blind ambition” in all its forms, the annual $25,000 awards will spring-board future generations of entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors in the blindness community.

With over 200 applicants from 27 countries, The Holman Prize saw stiff competition in its first year. All applicants were required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, and later asked to submit formal proposals.

Named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) The Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to support these three individuals,” LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin noted Thursday with the announcement. “They are all incredibly ambitious in different ways, and their projects will have a real effect on the way blindness is perceived globally. I think about Ahmet’s determination, Penny’s cultural savvy, and Ojok’s entrepreneurial spirit – this is what blindness looks like today. These three will change minds about what blind people can accomplish.”

The 2017 Holman Prize Winners

The Three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2017 for a week-long orientation before starting their projects on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Ahmet Ustunel’s project has a clear, unprecedented goal: to kayak solo, without eyesight, from Europe to Asia. With potential for a dramatic climax and high stakes, Ustunel’s proposal to cross the 3-mile Bosphorus Strait caught the attention of the Holman Prize Committee and proved to be a compelling and unprecedented undertaking. By training in California and working to develop a suite of non-visual guidance technology to thrive on his own in the water, Ustunel hopes to join the ranks of other great blind outdoor heroes such as Erik Weihenmayer, Lonnie Bedwell and others.

Get to know Ahmet.

Penny Melville-Brown has a project with a universal focus: food. With a deep belief in the power of food to connect people, Penny’s project is a bid to claim a place at the stove for blind chefs everywhere. Penny’s intentions are less about competition and perfection and more about connecting with others through culture and shared experience. Maybe she’s the blind Julia Child – or the blind Anthony Bourdain – either way, as Penny documents her travels and successes in her series, “Baking Blind,” the world will follow along with her.

Get to know Penny.

Ojok Simon will take on a drastically different kind of project than his fellow winners. Simon seeks to raise employment rates for blind and partially sighted individuals in rural regions of his home country of Uganda. His method? Teach them a very specialized and somewhat unlikely skill: beekeeping. For decades, Simon has been a passionate beekeeper finding ways to tend bees in nontraditional and non visual ways. Simon wants to impart his warm attitude and entrepreneurial spirit on other blind individuals in Africa and abroad, rather than seeing them relegated to poverty and reliance on charity.

Get to know Ojok.

Holman Honorees: Meet the 2017 finalists.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners. 

Support The Holman Prize.

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.

 

AMC Theaters Agrees to Improve Services for Blind Movie-Goers

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

San Francisco, CA – April 28, 2017 – AMC Theaters (AMC) has reached an agreement with several blind individuals, the California Council of the Blind (CCB), and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco (LightHouse) to ensure blind customers have reliable access to audio description services at AMC movie theaters nationwide.

Audio description is a verbal description of the visual events on screen, which plays between pauses in dialogue. Many movies come with audio description tracks, and customers who are blind or visually impaired can listen to audio description through special headsets that are available at the theatres. With audio description, people who are blind and visually-impaired can fully enjoy the important and beloved American pastime of going to the movies.

Under the agreement, AMC will require the managers and staff who are responsible for programming and handing out audio description equipment to be trained on the equipment. AMC and the plaintiffs in the case have developed staff and customer information guides to facilitate better service. AMC also will require managers to check the equipment regularly. Additionally, AMC will now offer audio description immediately before the feature movie begins, so customers can test the equipment before the feature movie begins to help ensure customers don’t miss any of the movie troubleshooting problems. In the rare event that a theater’s audio description equipment is out of service, AMC will now update theater websites to remove the audio description designation from showtimes. AMC has agreed to implement these changes in theaters nationwide.

This agreement resolves a lawsuit brought by CCB, the LightHouse, and several individuals, represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, in 2016, alleging that audio description equipment at AMC theaters frequently malfunctioned and that AMC staff did not properly check, program, or distribute the equipment to customers. AMC has provided audio description equipment to customers for years, but some blind individuals have had difficulty accessing the service because of equipment and customer service issues.

AMC Theatres and the Plaintiffs look forward to improved access to audio description services for blind and visually-impaired persons across the country.

Plaintiff Scott Blanks commented, “This settlement marks an important step toward improving access to the movies for people who are blind or have a vision impairment. I’m looking forward to going to AMC theaters and enjoying the movies with my family when AMC makes the changes to improve reliability of audio description in its theaters.”

Cynthia Pierce, AMC Senior Vice President for Facilities, Sight and Sound for AMC commented, “AMC is pleased to have worked with these organizations and individuals to develop solutions that will help bring the joy of movies to the blind community.”

California Council of the Blind President Judy Wilkinson stated, “The California Council of the Blind applauds AMC for working with us to enhance access to the movie-going experience for people who are blind. Movies are a central pillar of modern society, and ensuring that the blind community receives access to this content is critical to ensure that people who are blind are fully integrated into society.”

Bryan Bashin, Executive Director/CEO of the LightHouse states, “Access to reliable audio description is essential to ensure that blind movie-goers are able to enjoy movies in the same way that their sighted friends and family members do. Dependable audio description levels the playing field for the blind community. The LightHouse is pleased with AMC’s commitment to providing this service to blind movie-goers. We look forward to working with AMC to ensure that all blind movie-goers have a seamless experience when utilizing audio description.

Plaintiffs’ counsel Rebecca Williford of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) explains, “We are pleased that AMC is committed to improving audio description services in its theaters. Audio description should be as reliable as any other service or technology at an AMC theater, such as a sound system or popcorn machine.”

Ernest Galvan of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, counsel for Plaintiffs, said “when effectively implemented, technology like audio description has the power to further integrate people with disabilities into their communities.  By improving access to audio description services, this agreement harnesses that potential.”

Press Contacts

Scott Blanks

Senior Director, Programs

Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

sblanks@lighthouse-sf.org

Rebecca Williford, Disability Rights Advocates

(510) 665-8644

rwilliford@dralegal.org

Michael Nunez, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

(415) 433-6830

mnunez@rbgg.com

About the California Council of the Blind

California Council of the blind (CCB) is a non-profit membership organization composed of Californians who are blind or have low vision. CCB’s mission is to gain full independence and equality of opportunity for all blind and visually impaired Californians. To read more about CCB visit: http://www.ccbnet.org/.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired (the LightHouse), a San Francisco-based non-profit corporation, is California’s oldest organization serving the blind and visually impaired community. Through training, mentorship and recreation, the LightHouse is dedicated to aiding blind and visually impaired individuals in leading productive, enriching, and independent lives. For more information visit www.lighthouse-sf.org.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA has successfully negotiated access improvements to many contemporary technologies, including Redbox’s self-service video rental kiosks, Scribd’s digital library, the Uber ridesharing platform, and Netflix’s video streaming and disc rental. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP is a private law firm that specializes in complex litigation, including with respect to business disputes, employment matters, institutional reform, and civil rights.  For more information, visit www.rbgg.com/.

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